Facebook Engagement Rate: How One Little Metric Got So Tough To Nail Down

Facebook Engagement Rate: How One Little Metric Got So Tough To Nail Down Lauren Berry Blogger Extraordinaire Simply Measured

Facebook Engagement RateFacebook engagement rate…If you’re a social marketer, just reading that term might make you cringe. It’s a tough metric to understand, with a lot of nuances and opinions on how it should be calculated.

As the Senior Account Manager for Simply Measured, I’ve spent the last year and a half working intimately with the data of more than 400 top brands, corporate teams, and agencies. Throughout my time here, the one topic that customers inquire on the most often is engagement rate.

In this post, I’d like to take a look at some of the questions and issues we’ve seen customers face, take a deeper look at how Facebook engagement rate works, and identify some ways to make your Facebook data more meaningful.

Who’s Struggling With Engagement Rate?

There are a lot of agencies, brands, and even analytics providers who calculate this in different ways. Some of the questions we hear most often are:

  • How do you define engagement rate? How are other teams defining engagement rate?
  • Should I be using total fans or total reach as the base in determining an engagement rate?
  • How can I calculate engagement averages on a page level?
  • What is a “good” engagement rate for my industry?

The answers to these questions seem to change with every algorithm update or metric deletion that Facebook makes, but for marketers, they’re questions that still need to be answered.

I recently received this email that highlighted the complexity and misunderstanding (even from some social analytics providers) that can come into play here…

We are wondering how you measure engagement rate. Engagement rate is something that  we have been calculating manually…But wondering if you have input on this. We are revamping our quarterly report, and want to get the calculation as accurate as possible.

Here are three ways other companies are calculating engagement rate, just to give you an idea.

1. Total number of engagements divided by the number of fans (our current approach, which we believe is a bit flawed). You can further normalize by dividing by the number of days or weeks or months.

2. Total number of engagements divided by the total number of potential impressions. You can further normalize by dividing by the number of days or weeks or months.

3. Total number of engagements divided by the number of fans divided by the number of brand posts.

Just wondering if you or team had any thoughts on this. Would be very helpful for us.

Yikes! There are so many metrics and variables it can make your head spin. Not to mention that each social channel provides different data and definitions for metrics, as well as having different measures of success. It can become a complex topic very quickly!

How Does Facebook Define Engagement Rate?

Facebook defines “engagement rate” as a post-level metric, so I’ll touch on some great ways to measure engagement averages and get some solid benchmarks on a page level, but it’s important to remember that this specific term doesn’t apply past your post-level analysis. Just keep in mind that when you’re asking for an “engagement rate” you’re really asking for a consistent calculation that you can use across all posts to provide a benchmark so you know when a post is successful or has failed.

Below are the three ways to look at engagement rate and engagement averages on Facebook.

1. Creating an Internal Benchmark

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.21.41

To create an engagement rate benchmark, use the calculation: Engaged Users / Reach.

It’s important to have a strong understanding of “engaged users”, because in the Facebook ecosystem, there are two types:

  • Engaged users on the PAGE (Daily: The number of unique people who engaged with your page. Engagement includes any click or story created)

  • Engaged users on the POST (Lifetime: The number of unique people who clicked anywhere in your post).

For calculating engaged users, focus on the post level. Facebook defines “engagement rate” as a post level metric (more on page level measurement below).

Clicks were only recently introduced into total engagement as part of Facebook’s new Insights structure, which is why this method only works for your owned brand posts.

I have to say that at first, I was confused by this and even a little frustrated. Only likes, comments or shares create a story, and at the end of the day, we’re all competing for the most free eyeballs on our content, right? But not every user is ready to like, comment, or share a post. Yet they are still engaging by watching your video or opening the photo. Your content is resonating with them.

With the recent shift in Facebook’s relevancy algorithm to favor more of the article sharing and off-site traffic that content marketers are focusing on, clicks have become vastly important in determining the organic reach of a Facebook post.

ProTip: A customer who runs one of the world’s largest online retail brands posted a photo meme that received 123 shares, 419 likes and 6 comments; a healthy level of engagement for her page post. She posted a link the next day with a photo as a thumbnail (which Facebook now enlarges) and received only 27 shares, and 2 comment threads.

The meme photo with 18 times higher engagement had a Reach of 11,256 – only 1/3rd the amount of the link post, which Reached 26,288 unique users. Moral of the story: Don’t let clicks in the engaged users metric deter you!

Reach is a great metric to focus on since the users who view your content are not necessarily your page fans.

If you have the time to dig into the analysis (and please do!), it is important to differentiate your calculations and benchmarks for engaged users/organic reach and engaged users/paid reach separately.

Organic reach is content shown to an audience that has a higher likelihood of engaging since this audience has confirmed interest in your brand by liking the page, or by having a friend who has liked the page. This has proven to be a strong indicator in purchase preferences.

Paid reach can hit a target audience that is interested and has not yet taken action to like your page, but your paid campaigns are pushing content out to an audience that isn’t currently interacting with your brand. Furthermore, the higher the reach, the smaller the percentage of engaged users will most likely be. Don’t let your paid posts metrics skew your data too much with these variables. Create separate benchmarks and KPIs for each.

2. Monitoring Engaged Users

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.43.04

Reach is a great way to measure engagement rate, but it can also deviate from post to post based on source or campaign, as mentioned above. Viewing your total number of engaged users by week is a great way to get a pulse of when things are slowing down or when you’ve really succeeded. Remember that the best benchmark is often times yourself. While it doesn’t provide a post level metric, it does show whether or not your weekly posts have performed well or missed the bar.

This tactic can work in conjunction with your post-level engagement rate metric to develop a strong understanding of growth over time, and the impact of your efforts.

ProTip: One customer team mentioned that they keep track of their engaged users week-over-week to get a sense of how strong their engagement is and if they need to work a little harder the following week. They take their best week and use that as the main benchmark, then try to beat that until they have a new benchmark. I’d say developing goals and aiming to constantly hit or exceed them is a healthy attribute in any life function, and particularly in measuring your social performance.

Again, you’re looking for direction and benchmarks on performance. You don’t need an overly complicated calculation to determine this. Keeping an eye on both the engaged users/reach on a per-post level, and the total number of engaged users per week will certainly tell how you’re stacking up compared to posts or past weeks.

3. Stacking Up Competitively

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.44.26

So you’ve developed a healthy baseline internally and are able to easily determine success or failure on a post level. Congrats! However, we know the next question your boss will ask is: “Is that a good score? What’s the industry standard?” Do not fret! We can help you find this too.

“Engagement rate” isn’t a metric available on the page level, so it’s important to note that your calculations for page engagement averages will look different than they do at the post level.

Facebook Insights metrics are gated features, meaning we can’t get engaged users and reach for our competitors. Because of this, we have to change our calculation and work with what we’ve got. Remember that we’re looking for baselines and direction. Keep in mind that every other team is working with the exact same data you’ve got.

To find an industry standard, use engagement as a percentage of fans.

Since PTAT has gone away, the best way we’ve seen to measure your engagement compared to your competition is by measuring as a percentage of each page’s audience, using the following formula:

Engagements (comments, likes and shares) / Total Fans.

It’s easy, clean, and if your content isn’t resonating with the people who have explicitly declared interest in your brand, then you can analyze the tactics you’re using, and the tactics your sample set of other pages is using.

While not having total reach may seem like a bummer, don’t forget that engagement rate is intended to give you direction on performance. Are you measuring up? Are you lagging behind? Did a certain post blow it out of the water – and why? You don’t need exacts, just a consistent metric to provide a baseline.

Let us know how your teams are looking at engagement rates or index scores! I’d love to hear how other teams are scoring internally.

Screenshot 2014-08-14 14.37.37

Lauren Berry

Lauren Berry

Lauren is a Sr. Account Manager at Simply Measured, working with some of the largest brands in the world to track, understand, and optimize their social programs.

  • Amy

    Great post, thanks Lauren. One thing I have also seen in the how to calculate engagement rate is the argument that we should calculate consumptions/reach instead of engaged users/reach, because one engaged user might consume more than one thing on a post or page. Do you have a take on which is better to use?

    • Lauren

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you liked the post. That’s a great
      question. I typically like to use
      people as a measure of success, thus counting each individual person one time.
      Since that person would be responsible for sharing content or even purchasing
      product from a brand, I see the individual person as being the most important
      metric. Using consumptions is important, but could be widely skewed if I went
      through each of your posts and viewed all of your pictures, liked the posts,
      viewed who liked each post, etc for example. I may have contributed 20 consumptions alone,
      but I’m still just one person who will be purchasing or taking action on your
      page. Does that make sense? I certainly don’t think you should discredit
      consumptions and/or engagements though, as that will help boost your reach and
      does signal a positive response to your content!

      - Lauren

      • Amy

        Hi Lauren, Thanks for your thoughts! That absolutely makes sense. Particularly as you say, when looking at it from a customer/potential purchasing point of view. The page I manage is for a membership org, and purchasing isn’t our primary reason for being and I find we have a few really intense fans who do, as you say, go to the page and like 20 things. Sounds like I should use a plain count of consumptions and a calculated rate of engaged user/reach in my metrics then! :)

        Amy

        • Lauren

          Of course! That makes sense. Signing up for a membership could be considered your final goal, as well. Engagement Rate is intended to help you find a way to consistently measure your posts, so if engagements lend themselves more closely to your goal then by all means use total engagements! Good luck!

          • Amy

            Can I just clarify one thing from the above article? When you talk about using (Engagements (comments, likes and shares) / Total Fans) as an industry standard measure, are you talking the total daily engagements, or total monthly engagements?

          • Lauren

            I would use post level engagements to measure each post’s success.

  • Amy

    Me again! Just curious on the industry standard calculation – how are you calculating “comments likes and shares” – It’s often listed on sites for engagement, but how do people determine this, as a manual count directly off the page (yours or your competitor)? Seems time consuming (unless I’m missing something?)!

    • Lauren

      Are you asking how to quickly gather post stats to make this analysis? If so, that is exactly the service we provide. A quick, painless way to pull stats down from Facebook and other social networks so that you get this information quickly! Check out our Freebie reports – you’ll see a great example of how we gather Facebook engagement stats on the Facebook Fan Page report. Hope that helps!

      • Amy

        Sort of :) I guess I’m wondering if when people say measure “likes comments and shares” they are all out there counting these things manually off the page, or if they’re using facebook insights – the only thing I can find similar to that in the insights reports is “consumptions” which doesn’t seem like quite the same thing!

        • Lauren

          So you can either use what Facebook provides, which is Insights data or you can use public data. There are tools that do both, including Simply Measured reporting. The Facebook Fan Page report I mentioned just uses public data so that you can run it on any page and it will only show publicly available engagement, which consists of likes, comments and shares. Hope that helps!

  • Le Quan Tanimoto

    Hi, just a few questions. For the Engaged Users/Reach formula, is the “Reach” the “Lifetime: Total Reach” on the Post Level Data? And is this formula used for each post, or just an overall formula used for that time span you chose (week, month, etc). Sorry if this doesn’t make sense!

    • Lauren

      Hi Le Quan,
      I would use post level reach to determine the success or challenges of each post. When looking at total Engaged Users, I think a weekly time period provides a long enough time to neutralize any events or campaigns, but short enough for you to make quick optimizations to your content based on what you find in your analysis.

  • Harvey Brofman

    Seems like more and more, FaceBook engagement is fleeting at best. Last week via one of the discussions at SMWNYC, I heard that Edgerank has knocked the number of fans that see a particular post down to less than 5%. Not sure how it is decided which fans at various times see a particular post, but seems to me that it’s hard to tell a story when the audience will only see bits and pieces at best. perhaps you have to lower the bar (but not the expense) of the very definition of success to be shorter term goal oriented instead of a campaign based measurement. Is the once and done message the future of FaceBook engagement?

  • http://www.advicesisters.net/ advice sister alison

    this is sort of confusing. You can get lots of people to engage with a photo, but then what does that really mean? Are these people who were just interested in the photo, or in what you have to say, or sell, or something else? will they come back for more based on this one interaction? My feeling about all of this is that advertisers and companies are getting so fixated on “the numbers and ratings” they forget about what a quality interaction really is. As a writer, that worries me.

    • http://briancarteryeah.com/ briancarter

      This is just one stage of the whole marketing and sales funnel. But it’s important to be able to measure each stage. Talking about engagement metrics doesn’t not explicitly or implicitly mean that you don’t care about ROI.

      • Lauren

        I’d agree. Engagement Rate is merely a way to provide a baseline of each post’s performance to help the owner determine success and/or failure. It is not taking into consideration various post types that each have their own goals (engagements, visibility, information sharing, driving site traffic, etc.) Developing benchmarks for each content type is certainly encouraged, but as a primary step, Engagement Rate can be used across all post types. Each page owner should certainly identify what goals are most important to their business at the end of the day. However, engagements do affect visibility of the post, which is positive for any goal.

        • http://briancarteryeah.com/ briancarter

          Agreed- and recently I’ve done a lot more with FB ad conversion pixel and website conversion objective ads, and find that it’s night and day- when you let FB show ads to people more likely to convert (lead gen or ecommerce), it can mean the difference between conversions and ZERO conversions!

    • Petr Nemeth

      I agree, there is somehow a general belief that engagement rate is a “hard” metric and the higher the value the better. But engagement rate only describes what the name stands for – how many users
      reacted on your posts regardless whether the reactions were positive,
      negative or neutral, therefore having high engagement rate does not always implies the positive impact for you business. Knowing this fact, I find benchmarking competitors or calculating industry standards rather pointless, since the value of engagament rater is ambiguous and therefore not aggregable. If you are interested I wrote a blog post about this issue [http://www.petrnemeth.com/engagement-rate-the-most-overrated-social-metric/]

  • http://briancarteryeah.com/ briancarter

    This is a great post Lauren! One thing- a bunch of us were recently told about a month ago by a Facebook rep that their reach is inaccurate (and so is engaged users) and they’re working on it- so for our clients right now we divide by impressions, not reach. We still report reach but we’ve told our clients it’s inaccurate for now.

  • Aaron Tan

    Reach is so erratic. Last week we had a sudden 20% drop in reach even though we were doing the same things within that week. And that means a sudden spike in engagement rate because reach is the denominator.

    • Lauren

      True, reach can be erratic based on Facebook’s changes to their algorithms. Did you have a chance to look into your consumptions on the posts? Many of my teams who see a strong shift in reach also notice a correlation in consumptions based on the relevancy algorithm. If reach seems to shift too much, then certainly total fans as your base could be a good alternative.

  • Avtar Ram Singh

    Here: http://blog.circussocial.com/best-engagement-rate-formula-facebook/

    Simple, straightforward calculations that you can use. :)

  • http://www.praverb.net/ Patrick McNease

    Great post Lauren, I value the research and the ProTips that you added. Thank You.

    • Lauren

      No problem! Glad you enjoyed!

  • Shauhncy

    Hi Lauren, I have a question regarding competitor comparisons when looking at engagement rates. If using an analytic tool that compares engagement rates based on the formula: Engagements (comments, likes and shares) / Total Fans, does this not put a page with a higher total of fans at a disadvantage? Thanks!

    • Lauren

      Great question! The more fans a page has, the more engagement that page should have. However, as your audience grows it’s inevitable that some of your fans will no longer be engaged with your content.

      So, you’re right, engagement rate can suffer for pages with larger audiences. For that reason, it’s best to compare engagement rate between brands of similar audience sizes. If you would like to compare engagement for brands of varying fan counts, we suggest looking at engagements per 10,000 fans, which we also include in each of our competitive reports.

  • Tom G

    I have a similar concern as Shauhncy I believe related to using impressions vs. reaches vs. Total fans as the denominator for engagement.

    The client I end up working with the most has a very large fan base (in the millions) on FB. Subsequently, the amount impressed and reached represent a relatively small fraction of the total. As a group, we have decided that since we can’t control who we impress or reach upon, then it doesn’t really make sense to use the Total Fans metric as the denominator for engagement. Our logic being that we can only worry about those who we have the opportunity to make contact with and that every engagement is preceded by a reach and an impression. Whether impressions or reaches are more effective, we haven’t really decided yet, but we haven’t used Total Fans in a while. Assuming that every engagement follows a reach follows an impression (which to date I haven’t discovered any reason not to believe), any fluctuations in one metric that aren’t present in another should provide an indication as to the relative success or failure of that post. Or at least that’s what we hope is the case.

    I was hoping to get your input on this to see if you could provide any rational that I haven’t considered as to why Total Fans is a better alternative for determining engagement rate than impressions or reaches.

    Thanks

  • nicolas

    Hi Lauren,

    I want to thank you for your post. It’s really helpful. I have a question about the difference between organic and paid engagement rate. I had tried to calculate them by dividing de number of organic reach of a post by the number of engaged users and so the same with paid reach and engaged users. At first i looked perfect but i had a case when the number of engaged users were higher than the reached people, and the percentage in that case was like 350%. Would you help me with these? I’m trying to understand it but i’ve not figure it out.

    Thank you!

  • Jawzy

    Can you show the formulas with the figures of megaphone?

  • http://www.wpmsdev.org/ Ali Sajjad

    How to Mention like that, if you like this mention page, while you are seeing on that page which u never like, i have attached pic of sample.
    ” WWE was mentioned in a post.”

  • Maya

    Question, when looking at engagement is it then the unique viewer/fan… or can one very active fan distort the pic?

    Apart from that I agree that the point is to measure, know what you measure and why. Development is then the key.